|– U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Kirsten Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, today wrote to Secretary of Defense James Mattis urging him to reverse his recent decision to send military Judge Advocates (JAGs) to the Southern border to prosecute immigration cases. The Defense Department’s actions would leave active duty posts empty and would involve calling up reservists for this mission despite the DoD’s own recent admission that JAG Corps caseloads are full. When asked about an extension of Special Victims’ Counsels to support survivors of domestic violence and child abuse earlier this year, the Department of Defense stated that expanding the duties of the JAG Corps without adding more personnel would risk “a significant reduction in the quality of services currently provided.” Despite this response, the Defense Department is now sending twenty-one JAGs to the border.
“We are…deeply troubled by the Department’s decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases,” the Senators wrote. “Clearly, the military needs more, not fewer, lawyers available for its critical military justice practice. Instead, we have now learned the services will be diverting these valuable resources to support a non-military mission. Pulling twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel. We urge you to maintain these resources within the military justice system.”
The new Defense Department action would divert military resources and legal personnel away from the already heavily burdened military justice system. The DoD did not make it clear what would happen to the caseloads of the active duty JAGs who are being assigned to this new role. JAGs are not trained in the highly complex and nuanced field of immigration law, and the Defense Department also did not make clear the scope of any new training provided to the military before sending them to the border.